November 1, 2017 / 3:01 PM / a year ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Trucks, SUVs dominate in mixed U.S. October vehicle sales

(In paragraph 16, corrects Fiat Chrysler third-quarter North American profit margin to 8 percent from 8.3 percent)

By Nick Carey

DETROIT, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Major automakers posted mixed U.S. new vehicle sales in October on Wednesday, though America’s love affair with high-margin pickup trucks and SUVs still bloomed as larger, pricier vehicles continued to fare better than passenger cars.

General Motors Co reported an overall sales drop of 2.2 percent for the month, with consumer sales down 6.6 percent. High-margin pickup truck, SUV and crossover sales were all up at the largest U.S. automaker.

GM reduced its inventory of unsold vehicles in the month by 7,000 vehicles to 813,000. The automaker has been whittling away at its large volume of unsold vehicles, a source of concern for the market. GM had advised that its inventory would rise in October.

“We are heading into the fourth quarter with good momentum, thanks to a strong U.S. economy and very strong pickup and crossover sales,” GM’s vice president for U.S. sales operations, Kurt McNeil, said in a statement.

GM slightly reduced consumer discounts as a percentage of the average transaction price, to 13.5 percent from 13.7 percent in the third quarter.

Industry experts believe consumer discounts in excess of 10 percent of the average transaction price are unhealthy for the market as they erode resale values and are unsustainable in the long term.

Industry consultants J.D. Power and LMC said last week that based on preliminary sales numbers including October, discounts have exceeded 10 percent in 15 of the last 16 months.

The U.S. auto industry is coming off a strong run that culminated in record sales of 17.55 million units in 2016. New sales got a strong lift in September as consumers replaced vehicles damaged in southeast Texas by Hurricane Harvey the previous month.

Full-year 2017 sales are still expected to be down slightly versus 2016.

Ford Motor Co posted a 6.2 percent gain in vehicle sales in October, driven largely by a 15.9 percent jump in sales of its popular, high-priced F-Series line of pickups. Strong demand pushed the average price tag for an F-Series truck up $4,000 from the previous October to $47,300.

High-margin pickup trucks were a dominant factor in the better-than-expected results Ford posted last week.

On a conference call, Ford’s U.S. sales chief, Mark LaNeve, said the upgraded F-Series line “really has been a spectacular success” and said the market would remain “competitive” through the end of 2017 and into 2018.

Ford’s low-margin fleet sales rose 14.6 percent in October.

Toyota Motor Corp said its sales rose 5.2 percent in October, as strong pickup truck and SUV sales offset a 12.7 drop in Toyota sedans and a 27.9 percent decrease in luxury Lexus sedans.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) reported a 13 percent sales decline. The automaker’s sales to consumers were down 4 percent, while fleet sales slid 43 percent, in line with the company’s strategy to reduce low-margin sales to car rental agencies.

FCA has pushed to sell more profitable SUVs and pickup trucks, which helped lift its North American profit margin to 8 percent in the third quarter.

Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s sales increased 8.4 percent for the month, driven by a 12.9 percent jump in pickups, SUV and crossover sales. Sales of its popular Rogue crossover model soared 43 percent in October.

But sales at Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand fell 8.1 percent, driven largely by a 16.2 percent drop in luxury sedan sales.

GM shares were up 0.5 percent at $43.21 while Ford rose more than 1.3 percent to $12.43 and Fiat Chrysler rose 1.7 percent to $17.64 in U.S. trading. (Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

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